CENTERVIEW-About 100 people attended an informational rally to hear several speakers voice their concerns and opposition to U.S. Nitrogen's plans to withdraw and discharge as much as a million gallons of water, or more, on a daily basis from the Nolichucky River, for their new plant in Midway.
Susan Ashmore, moderator of the evening event held at the Centerview Ruritan Club on Saturday, May 17, congratulated those who decided "to come, to listen, to hear, and to decide" whether they want to protest the proposed plant and its withdrawal of water and discharge into the Nolichucky River.
A few law enforcement officers who were on duty in case the meeting got out of control, stood silently in the back of the Centerview Ruritan Club hall as the orderly meeting took place. Speakers were greeted with hearty applause.
Estimated that 59 miles of river in Cocke County affected
Some of those present said Cocke County residents downstream of the proposed draw and discharge of wastewater would be the most affected should the project become a reality because the county has 59 miles of land that borders the Nolichucky, allegedly the most of any county.
The U.S. Nitrogen plant is reportedly being established to manufacture liquid ammonium nitrate (known as ANSOL, or ANS).
U.S. Nitrogen and Austin Powder officials have consistently stated that the Midway operation, which was given a basic go-ahead by the Greene County Commission in February 2011, will be safe and environmentally sound, and will, in fact, exceed required legal and regulatory safety standards.
Many in attendance wore bright green T-shirts expressing their disapproval of the proposed pumping site near the old Conway Bridge.
Ashmore opened the evening's event with prayer.
Tennessee State Rep. Jeremy Faison said, if the plant goes ahead with its plan to draw over a million gallons of water per day from the Nolichucky River and discharge a similar amount of wastewater, the State of Tennessee would almost certainly leave monitoring of the river downstream of Conway Bridge up to U.S. Nitrogen.
Faison: 'Like letting the fox guard the hen house'
Said Faison, "That's like letting the fox guard the hen house."
Rep. Faison also said he would personally escort anyone in the district he represents to meet with Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) officials "to make sure our water is clean".
He started out by saying, "We're not Democrats, Republicans, or independents. We're Americans who care about the river."
Rita Carter said she and her husband Ken are lifelong residents of Briar Thicket, adjacent to the Nolichucky River. "I lived on land there all my life," she said.
Carter stated, "We raise cattle (and) get hay there. We have nothing but well water; no city water is piped in. I don't want it (the river) ruined. The bottom line is it has to be stopped."
Ken Carter asked, rhetorically, "What is a river like that worth? Can you put a dollar figure on it?"
Roger Coen, who said he lives 600 yards from the river, said he, too, like others who spoke, is concerned about pollution into the Nolichucky River adversely affecting his drinking well water.
Gay Webb, a member of the Cocke County Planning Commission, who Faison said has property on the Pigeon River, said his experience in getting a paper mill upstream from Cocke County to not pollute that river, was not a good one.
Webb: Don't expect EPA or TDEC to support the protesters' cause
"We fought Pigeon River pollution for 30 years," Webb said. He added, "We thought the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) and TDEC would side with us, but they never helped us, so don't trust these people." He said there were some "good" individuals in those agencies, but not enough to get the EPA or TDEC to side with activists.
Webb also advised those present to "get your own (private) lawyers" when fighting U.S. Nitrogen's plans.
Amelia Taylor, of Clean Water Expected in East Tennessee (CWEET), said it is of paramount importance that opponents of the proposed water draw and outtake stop U.S. Nitrogen from getting their permit, citing her own experience with the North Carolina paper mill company upstream of the Pigeon River that has a permit.
She said that, unfortunately, her 10 years of work on getting a more stringent permit for the paper mill company has not improved the quality of water in the Pigeon River in any way at all.
Fears expressed that operation will kill sensitive water species
Some present at Saturday's meeting talked about what they feared would be the environmental impact from the wastewater discharge on mussels and other sensitive species that live in the Nolichucky River.
Taylor asked those present, and anyone else who decides to protest the water pipes project, to make their comments "as personal as possible ... They want to know how this will affect camping, boating, fishing ... Ask that the permit be denied ... These permits are highly technical, ... but we do have scientists on our side.
"If we work together, we might be able to stop this permit from being approved, Taylor stated.
Brad Davidson, an assistant public defender who won the GOP primary for Cocke County General Sessions judge earlier this month, said he wanted to know where the permit levels the state has decreed came from.
"We've got to stop this," said Davidson of the proposed drawdown/discharge U.S. Nitrogen operation.
Davidson told The Plain Talk after the meeting that he fully understands the chemicals U.S. Nitrogen is saying would be discharged. Davidson said he has a Bachelor of Science degree in chemical engineering, and worked in chemical plants around the U.S. for 17 years before becoming a public defender.
Ashmore said the parent company of U.S. Nitrogen, Austin Powder, typically chooses economically distressed areas to build their chemical plants. She said, "A 250-million-dollar plant (in Midway) sounds like a dream come true ... (but) they have limited liability (a LLC, or Limited Liability Corporation) ... It's scary!" She also said U.S. Nitrogen will have only 60 new jobs at its plant, a relatively small number she compared to the opening of a new McDonald's with three shifts of employees.
First rally was held April 24
A rally opposing the issuance of a permit to U.S. Nitrogen for river water was held April 24 at the Nolichucky Vineyard.
On Saturday, May 17, Alex Martin said he was a University of Tennessee student whose family vineyard and winery -- Nolichucky Vineyard -- have 1.5 miles of frontage on the Nolichucky River. He said he is organizing the protest movement against U.S. Nitrogen.
Donahue Bible read from a letter he wrote to TDEC officials.
He said water could come from the Old Knoxville Utility District, which was the original plan when U.S. Nitrogen proposed the Midway plant. Said Bible, "All they have to do is pay for it (the water usage)." He also said, "They want access to free cooling water."
Bible's letter read aloud by him was greeted with loud applause by many of those present Saturday night.
The day after the meeting, Bible furnished by email to The Newport Plain Talk what he said are copies of pages from the Office of the Greene County Registrar of Deeds, showing the option of the land on the Nolichucky River, that was sold by J.W. Douthat, to U.S. Nitrogen Plant Manager Justin Freeark, on September 11, 2013. This option includes the land at the Conway Bridge, where the proposed US Nitrogen pump station is to be built...and the 10 mile-long dual pipeline is to begin, according to Bible.
"At the time of this transaction, J. W. Douthat was the chairman of the board of the Old Knoxville Highway Utility District, which was in the process of negotiations with U.S. Nitrogen to furnish ALL the water needs for the new plant at Midway. Mr. Douthat did not resign from the Old Knox board until April 30, 2014...six months after he made the deal with U.S. Nitrogen which was kept secret from his fellow board members.
"This real estate transaction was not discovered by me until March 24, 2014. I submitted it in a 'Letter to the Editor' to the Greeneville Sun. It was published on May 3, 2014.
"Both Mr. Douthat and Mr. Freeark were contacted by the newspaper and given a chance to respond to the allegations. Mr. Freeark gave a rambling response which in no way addressed the land transaction with J. W. Douthat.
"J. W. Douthat did not choose to respond.
"Ms. Laura White, superintendent of Greeneville Water Commission, responded in which she gave information regarding the ability of Greeneville Water Commission to furnish a 16-inch water line with 180 PSI (pounds per square inch) to Old Knox Utility, at a master meter at Pruitt Road, west of Greeneville.
"Ms. White also addressed the issue of her experiences with U.S. Nitrogen regarding discussions and price quotations for treating the industrial waste water, through the Greeneville Water Commission sewer system which could be connected on the Highway 70 bypass, after infrastructure was upgraded to accept the increase in flow. The wastewater would be treated and returned to the Nolichucky River in a completely safe manner."
Scott Bambury, conservation program coordinator for the Tennessee chapter of the Sierra Club, spoke during the meeting. He also answered a few questions from a reporter. He said the public notices for the controversial river water project are very "inadequate". Public hearings were held April 15 and 17 in Greene County by TDEC to discuss the pending U.S. Nitrogen applications for revised air and water quality permits. Ashmore also criticized TDEC for not holding public hearings in counties to be affected by the operation, such as Cocke, Hamblen, Jefferson, and Sevier counties.
A Facebook page and other Web site for operation opponents
Ashmore said up-to-date information about the U.S. Nitrogen project, permits, and more, can be accessed at the Facebook page, "savethenolichucky". More information can be found online at cweet.org/save-the-nolichucky/
Ashmore said near the close of the two-hour meeting on May 17 that included a question-and-answer period, "We have U.S. senators and representatives who need to know about this ... We have social media and the worldwide Internet. People can sign the petition online. It's amazing what computer knowledge can do for us."
The next information meeting will be held Saturday, May 24, at 7 p.m., in White Pine, at the Kidz Kountry Pavilion, she said.